Black Leopard, Red Wolf

by Marlon James

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467

The book Black Leopard, Red Wolf merges high fantasy and historical fiction elements. It's written by highly acclaimed writer, and former winner of the Man Booker Prize, Marlon James. It is also the first novel in the Dark Star Trilogy. The setting for the book is a mythical version of Africa where epic beasts roam and brave quests are undertaken. There are many characters in Marlon James's novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf. In this response, I will focus on providing two brief descriptions of some of the important characters in this inventive work of fiction.


Tracker is the book's protagonist, and he's known for his excellent tracking skills (hence his name). Throughout Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Tracker is often told by other characters that "It is said that you have a nose" due to his special ability to find missing people. He usually focuses on finding cheating spouses, as this helps him stay financially afloat. Tracker, along with a number of other characters, is hired by a shadowy figure to try to track down a missing boy. The other characters tasked with tracking the boy include a shapeshifting leopard, a giant, a buffalo, a witch, and a water goddess. The term "Red Wolf" in the novel's title refers to Tracker, as he replaces one of his eyes with a wolf's eye. This new eye gives him the ability to see even in darkness. The protagonist of Black Leopard, Red Wolf is an unusual main character for an epic fantasy novel, as throughout his quest he expresses little interest in the missing child. As Constance Grady (2019) notes in her review for Vox:

Tracker himself has absolutely no reason to care about the boy and often remarks as much. For another thing, Tracker tells us in the first line of the novel that "the child is dead. There is nothing left to know."

While Tracker, on the surface, seems emotionally disconnected from his quest, it's revealed that he is motivated by a legacy of family trauma.


Leopard is a shapeshifting hunter in possession of the the ability to take both human and leopard form, although he prefers to adopt human form most of the time. His relationship with Tracker plays an important role in the book. Leopard is described as having "whiskers and wild hair that made him look more lion than panther." He and Tracker share a sexual attraction. For example, their desire for one another is demonstrated in this passage from the novel:

I took his hand but he pulled away and grabbed me, pulling in tight. I was ready to say this feels like something from boy lovers in the east until I felt myself go soft in his arms, weak, so weak I barely hugged back. I felt like crying, like a boy.

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